WEBSTER GROVES, Mo. — A national legal organization is calling out a St. Louis-area school district for allegedly violating state and federal law.
The Southeastern Legal Foundation said the Webster Groves School District made students answer personal surveys without parental consent.
According to the foundation, Webster Groves has had students answer surveys on a weekly basis, with some questions asking a student their sexual orientation or political party. SLF said that is against the law, but the school district said they did nothing wrong.
“That information is personal and sensitive. The school has no business asking him those questions without parental consent,” said Kimberly Hermann, a lawyer with Southeastern Legal Foundation out of Georgia.
Hermann said they have received numerous complaints from parents with students with Webster Groves School District, all about personal surveys students have had to fill out weekly in the past school year.
“Those parents’ antennas really went up when they started seeing surveys were going out asking about their children’s mental health, their sexual activity, their political beliefs, their parents’ political beliefs and views. Just, something wasn’t right, and they were dead on,” Hermann said.
SLF told FOX 2 that the surveys passed out at Webster Groves schools are created and administered by outside companies such as Panorama Education and Project Wayfinder. SLF said sample survey questions include, “I am aware of and comfortable with my cultural, racial, and personal identity,” “My family supports me in my academic and personal life,” and “I feel supported by my family.”
Hermann said SLF has been collecting information on other school districts across the country about similar surveys. She said passing these surveys out without parental consent violates state and federal privacy laws. She said the surveys have been given out to high school and middle school students.
“We have kids in middle school being asked about their sexual activity and sexual orientation, and it’s up to the parents to decide when these conversations are had,” Hermann said.
The Webster Groves School District said the federal and state laws cited by the SLF do not apply to their surveys.
The Webster Groves School District is first and foremost dedicated to the safety and well-being of all of its students, and to providing each of them a quality education as comprehensive as possible to prepare them for their adult lives. To accomplish that, it is essential to become and remain aware of their learning environment, how safe and included students feel in that environment, and how the District can better support students so that each can reach his or her full potential.
As for the allegations by Georgia’s Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) that the District is somehow violating state and federal law, those allegations are simply unfounded, as can be seen by simply reading the statutes they cite. The District complies in all respects with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). The requirements for student surveys under the PPRA apply only to programs partially or wholly funded by the U.S. Department of Education – the Act specifically limits the requirements to any program for which the Secretary of Education or the Department of Education “has administrative responsibility as provided by law.” None of the surveys cited by SLF were a part of any such program.
The requirements of the Missouri statute cited by SLF (§161.096) are only directed to “the statewide longitudinal data system” maintained by the Missouri Department of Education, not to any student information gathered at the local level. In fact, the statute itself provides that student data “shall only include locally developed or locally approved assessments” including but not limited to those developed by classroom teachers. The only reference in that statute to the local school district is a prohibition against reporting certain student information to the state data system, and the Webster Groves School District does not report any such information to the Department of Education.
SLF has asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate. The Attorney General sent Fox 2 This statement:
We appreciate the Southeast Legal Foundation for bringing their concerns to the Office and have received similar allegations in districts across the state. We have been working diligently to empower parents and return transparency to Missouri’s schools. We are currently closely reviewing the information contained in that letter and information in other districts and will take action wherever possible.